In France, 48% of the people considered themselves either living in poverty or on the way to living in poverty. The sobering survey results were released just ahead of the National Conference of the Fight against Poverty. A big conference, packed with top politicians. The government is taking it seriously. They will be looking for Band-Aids to cover the deep wounds of the private sector that is atrophying and shedding jobs.
Especially of CEOs who parachute into the executive office. Wall Street’s knee-jerk reaction can be phenomenal. Citigroup’s massacre of 11,000 souls caused its stock to jump. But the same day, we learn that wages adjusted for inflation dropped 1.4% in the third quarter—a continuation of 12 years of declines that has hollowed out the middle class, pushed people into the lower classes, and devastated the poor.
“Private sector” is a rubbery term. Most of the bondholders that lost their shirts during the first Greek default last March, and during the second one currently underway, were banks, including banks in Greece, Spain, and Cyprus. They are now getting bailed out by the public. After nearly all of Greece’s debt was shifted to the public, a third haircut was announced. Now Portugal wants the same deal. The can has been opened.
During the off-hours on Sunday, when few people were willing to ruin whatever remained of their weekend and when even astute observers weren’t supposed to pay attention, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners approved new rules that would allow life insurance companies to lower their reserves for future claims—at the worst possible time—having already forgotten all about the financial crisis.
Every country in the Eurozone has its own collection of big fat lies that politicians and eurocrats have served up in order to make the euro and subsequent bailouts or austerity measures less unappetizing. Like in 1999: “Can Germany be held liable for the debts of other countries? A very clear No!” said the CDU, the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“The euro has profound economic advantages and is the most powerful symbol of European integration,” said not some wild-eyed dude with a joint between his lips, slouching in a café in Amsterdam, but the “Final Report” by the Future of Europe Group, composed of 11 European foreign ministers. It remains uncertain what they were smoking.
Privatizing state-owned companies has been all the rage in France since the mid-nineties, by socialist and conservative governments alike. But the morass in the private sector has stopped that. Now nationalization is being brandished as a solution—again—though the state still owns a big chunk of the private sector. The dominoes are lined up. Last week it was ArcelorMittal. Today it’s one of the world’s largest shipyards.
In September, the German Labor Ministry sent a draft report “on Poverty and Wealth” to other ministries to be rubber-stamped. Only the final report would be made public. The draft was to remain hidden. But it seeped to the surface immediately. And it was hot. Too hot. Now a new version leaked from the Economy Ministry—without the offending data and comments.
The inexplicable American consumer, the strongest creature out there that no one has been able to subdue yet, has come to grips with a new reality, euphemistically called “New Normal,” though it isn’t normal by any means, but dismal. Feeling more upbeat, they nudged up the Consumer Confidence Index to a level not seen since February 2008—a level that caused people to tear their hair out at the time.
“I cannot be disillusioned because I no longer have any illusions about Europe,” muttered Euro Group President Jean-Claude Juncker last week after the horse trading over Greece’s bailout had failed once again. But he isn’t the only one who lost his illusions. “There are better alternatives to the bailout policies of Chancellor Merkel,” declares the man who’ll run against her in 2013; alternatives that “protect taxpayers and don’t only benefit the banks.”